Dress Coded: A Podcast
This is my first podcast and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve only listened to two podcasts in my life; one was about famous guitarists, and the other was about Southern cooking. Neither prepared me for what I’m about to say. But I feel like this is the best way to tell the real story about what happened to make the entire Fisher Middle School eighth grade hate Olivia Bonaventura.
It’s time for the truth.
Me: My name is Molly Frost, and this is episode one of Dress Coded: A Podcast, the real story behind the dress-code disaster at Fisher Middle School. The whole incident happened in the Fisher flower garden, right next to the mountain of kindness rocks, Mrs. Tucker’s pet project. I was there. I saw the whole thing. And now I’m sitting here with Olivia. Hi, Olivia, do you want to give the background?
Olivia: You can give the background, Molly.
Me: Are you sure? It’s your story.
Olivia: You were a witness.
Me: Okay, well, it all began last Wednesday. I woke up late in a panic because I was already missing first period and my mom was at an appointment, so I had to cut through the woods to the back path of our school. When I got to the garden, which, for you non-Fisher listeners, was planted to honor the six Fisher graduates who died in wars, I stopped to tie my shoe. I looked up, and that’s when I saw you standing in front of Mr. Dern and Dr. Couchman. I still remember Dr. Couchman’s face was bright red and Mr. Dern was pointing his finger at you, and you were crying.
Olivia: Molly, can you pause it for a minute?
I’m already beginning to think Dress Coded: A Podcast was a mistake. Olivia seems very uncomfortable.
“Are you okay?” I say, checking to make sure the recorder is off.
She nods. “Maybe we should just forget about this. Pearl says the story will die by high school graduation.”
“Olivia, I can’t let everyone hate you for something that wasn’t your fault. It’s just not right. People need to know what happened.”
I don’t say this to Olivia, for obvious reasons, but when Mr. Dern and Dr. Couchman were yelling at her because of a royal-blue tank top with spaghetti straps, I witnessed a piece of her soul leave her body. Until that day, I had thought souls left bodies at the time of death, all at once. But when I saw Olivia’s face, her arms crossed in front of her, the tears streaming down her cheeks, and the rose-colored hives blooming upward and outward across her chest, I knew everything I had ever believed about souls leaving bodies was wrong. Souls leave bodies in tiny gasps, like when you hold the lip of a balloon tightly and let out the air a little bit at a time.
That’s why I texted her two days later. I had planned to talk to her at school, but she refused to go.
Letter to Fourth Graders
If I could write a letter to my fourth-grade class, I would keep it short, because we didn’t have long attention spans in fourth grade. I would say this:
Dear Fourth Graders,
I know you all think boob is a funny word, and it is. But it won’t be for long. Okay, maybe it will still be funny for the boys in eighth grade. But for eighth-grade girls, there’s nothing funny about boobs. They hurt sometimes when they’re growing, and they don’t always grow in evenly, and sometimes they grow in all at once. It is possible to go visit your grandma in Florida for spring break and come back with big lumps of flesh poking through your shirt, and before you know it, you’re standing in a garden while two grown men yell at you and make you cry because your shirt no longer fits. And if that’s not your story, you may wake up every single day, peek down your shirt, close your eyes tight, open them, and then look to see if anything has popped up overnight. And when it hasn’t, you will put on the bra you don’t need and wear a baggy shirt, because you don’t want people to notice you still look like a fourth grader (no offense). And then you and your friend with the big lumps of flesh will walk around in your ill-fitting shirts with your shoulders rounded because you have grown to hate the word you once thought was so funny. Boob. The biggest four-letter word of middle school.
I used to be better friends with Olivia and Pearl.
Olivia was in my fifth-grade class, and Pearl was in my sixth-grade class. They were both lunch-table friends, as opposed to sleepover friends or the even closer double-sleepover friends. We talked about homework and sat together at assemblies and picked each other first (or at least second or third) for teams at recess. I knew Olivia had a secret crush on Rahul, and Pearl and I fake-dated a few of the same boys. Fake-dating in fifth and sixth grade means telling everyone you’re dating, then making sure you don’t make eye contact with your fake boyfriend until you break up a week later.
I’ll never forget the time Nick was about to pull the chair out from under me just as I was sitting down and Olivia punched him and saved me from falling. She got sent to the office for that and I felt really bad, but she assured me it was worth it.
I lost touch with Olivia in seventh grade because I hadn’t seen much of her in sixth grade and because Olivia got into seventh-grade honors. I lost touch with Pearl because Pearl isn’t allowed to have Snapchat, which kind of makes her a social outcast (I wish it didn’t have to be that way), and because Pearl also got into honors.
I didn’t get into honors because I’m a pretty average person in every way. I wouldn’t say I try my best at school, lacrosse, clarinet, or life in general. But compared to my brother, Danny, I’m a rock star.
Pearl and Olivia are pretty good friends. If I had to guess (because I haven’t really talked much to Pearl or Olivia this year), they’re sit-on-the-bus-together-on-field-trips friends and maybe sleepover friends, but probably not double-sleepover friends.
I hung out with my lacrosse team for a while in seventh grade, because it was easy to make plans after practice and half of us still weren’t allowed to use our phones unless it was for an emergency, so making plans in person was our only option.
I can assure you our forbidden phones were ringing off the hook when Fisher Middle School went into active-shooter lockdown last spring. Mrs. Pullman thought she heard Chris Reynolds say he was hiding a bomb. We’re still not sure if he actually said that, but we went on lockdown and Chris Reynolds got suspended. My mom has said “I love you, Molly” at drop-off every morning since that day, even when she’s in a miserable mood because of Danny. At least twice a month, she’ll remind me: “If there’s a shooter, don’t necessarily do what the teachers tell you to do. Listen to your gut. Run if your gut tells you to run. Hide if your gut tells you to hide.” I don’t really trust my gut, but I don’t tell her that.
Since eighth grade started, Navya, Ashley, and Bea have been my closest friends. They’re not in honors either, but Navya is the best lacrosse player on the team, Bea is so talented at art she gets fifty dollars a day face-painting at birthday parties, and Ashley has a pool and a hot tub. They like hanging out with me because I’m funny.
That’s pretty much all anyone needs to know about what my life was like before I saw Olivia getting dress coded in the Kindness Garden while Pearl stood there holding a pair of Pink sweatpants.
Oh, I did want to mention my brother, Danny, has been sucking up all my parents’ energy, because he’s addicted to vaping. In their free time, my parents enjoy searching Danny’s room and backpack, hiding their cash so Danny can’t take it to buy pods, and calling doctors to ask how long it will be before Danny gets popcorn lung and dies.
I know at least twenty kids in the eighth grade who have gotten vaping pods from Danny.
That’s how he gets his cash.
He doesn’t need Mom and Dad’s money.
Letter to Parents
Dear FMS Parents:
It is with deep regret that I write to inform you our camping trip to Strawberry Hill State Park has been canceled. As you will recall, I sent out a letter on February 25 promising a wonderful trip if our eighth graders simply followed the dress code outlined in the student handbook. For the better part of the semester, your children have done a fantastic job. Recently, however, a student violated the dress code and after we gave her ample opportunity to comply, she refused. Unfortunately, rules are rules.
In an effort to provide a safe, distraction-free learning environment, we encourage your children to continue following the policy stated in our FMS handbook. Thank you for your attention to this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused your family.
Jim Couchman, EdD
My best friend Will texts me: I hate camping, but that was messed up. I thought Olivia was normal.
Will is my neighbor. Our backyards touch, and our dads built the tree house when we were eight and inseparable. I barely see him anymore because he’s addicted to some video game I’ve never heard of and because our parents don’t hang out as much since my mom is stressed-out about Danny.
Our moms always say, “If you two don’t manage to get prom dates, you can always go together.” They’ve been saying this since back when Will and I routinely wrestled each other to the ground over a sippy cup full of Goldfish.
“It’s not like when you went to the prom,” I tell my mom. “Nobody cares. I may go with a boy, or a girl, or a group.”
That’s when she tilts her head a little and rests her hand on my leg and says, “Are you bisexual, Molly? Because that’s totally and completely fine.”
“Where did you get ‘Are you bisexual?’ from ‘I may or may not have a date to the prom’?” I ask.
We’ve had this conversation at least five times.
I text Will back. What is that supposed to mean? How is Olivia not normal?
Will replies, If she were normal she wouldn’t be trying to get attention.
I’m too angry to reply.
Copyright © 2020 by Carrie Firestone. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.